A papal visit to the land of Bakhita?

Rocco at Whispers in the Loggia just pointed out yesterday a bit of news from a couple of months ago that I had missed at the time.  It seems that Pope Benedict XVI, while attending World Youth Day celebrations in Australia this past July, told a young woman from Darfur in Sudan: “Yours is the country I most want to visit.”

This is not surprsing and particularly relevant to readers of the Pope’s 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi, on Christian hope.   In the beautiful document, the Pope chose to highlight the life and witness of St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), a native of Darfur.  Since he certainly had hundreds of extraordinary saints to pick from as illustrations of what hope looks like when it is lived out heroically, it’s surely no coincidence that he picked a woman from this tragically troubled region. 

Benedict would not be the first pope to visit Sudan. Pope John Paul II traveled there in 1993, less than a year after he beatified Bakhita.  At a special Mass celebrated to honor her in the capital city of Khartoum, he preached:

Her Beatification was an act of respect not only for her but also for the Sudan, since a daughter of this land was put forward as a hero of mercy and of goodwill…. The immense suffering of millions of innocent victims impels me to voice my solidarity with the weak and defenceless who cry out to God for help, for justice, for respect for their God–given dignity as human beings, for their basic human rights, for the freedom to believe and practise their faith without fear or discrimination…. Today, in the Sudan, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, repeats these words and encourages you to stand firm and to take heart. The Lord is close to you. He will never leave you alone. The whole Church understands your distress and prays for you.

That was more than 15 years ago, and still the violations of human rights in Sudan continues on a large scale, in some ways that are new and more intense since that time.  Another papal visit would surely be an important event. 

In the meantime,  consider offering some concrete support to the beleaguered people of Darfur through Catholic Relief Services.  (In my classroom, I show my high school juniors this video (in 3 parts, of about 7 minutes each) produced by 3 college students who visited Darfur.  There is also actually an online “game” called Darfur is Dying that has been designed to help people understand the experience of people there.  I know, it sounds crass at first, but I think it’s an effective tool for young people, who tend not to pay attention to anything that’s not online.  Finally, you’ll find a novena to St. Josephine Bakhita in my book Saints for Our Times: New Novenas and Prayers.)

St. Josephine Bakhita, witness of hope, pray for the people of Darfur!


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